26 Jan REVIEW: Sepia Restaurant and Wine Bar (Sydney)
Holidays are great, aren’t they? On holiday you get the chance to do and see and eat things you wouldn’t normally have a chance to otherwise. On holiday caution is thrown to the wind with frequent abandon because… well, when are we going to get the chance to [insert applicable verb here] this again?
Honeymoons are even better. Honeymoons up the ante. Honeymoons carry that weight of irreplaceability, that expectation that you and your new spouse will create some never-to-be-recreated, once in a lifetime experiences and memories. On your honeymoon all other excuses fade away, unnecessary under the omnipotent power of, “Hey, it’s our honeymoon”. Universal words that automatically approve any hair-brained idea that may cross your right cerebral hemisphere, whether it be a sky-dive over a glacier, swimming with great whites or – in our case – visiting a Top 100 restaurant…!
Now why would I compare an extravagant meal to sharks and sky-dives, you ask? What do they have in common? Why, the fact you know going in that there will be a degree of discomfort involved, of course! Yet you go with it regardless. In the case of a decadent dinner, the discomfort, admittedly, is on your pocket; a Top 100 restaurant will no doubt offer a culinary experience unlike any you have been previously been privy, but make no mistake… that sucker is going to sting.
So it was with eyes wide open that we graced the vestibule of Sepia, a contemporary Australian restaurant located in the Darling Park precinct of Sydney’s CBD that broke into Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2016 at #99. With a focus on local Australian produce, particularly seafood, and the utilisation of Japanese influences, this is one of only a handful of Australian eateries to make the list. And it was on word of mouth (I know people!) that, out of these five, Sepia got the nod.
I think what needs to be said from the off is that the status of a restaurant, whether it’s a Michelin star, an AA rosette, or simply a prestigious place in a ‘best of’ list somewhere, does not automatically guarantee a flawless experience or a perfect model. Our arrival was a trepidatious example, due to a missing reservation, which turned out to be a result of Sepia’s elaborate booking system (prior credit card authorisation and also a last minute email confirmation are both required ahead of your visit, but given we were undertaking the 21-hour trip to Australia the day before, confirmation was impossible) and saw us relegated to the waiting list.
The good news was that, on this night, there was no waiting list and although our table had been given away, we were offered a table in the bar area, which we were more than happy to take. On reflection we were glad this had been the case, as the bar seemed less stuffy than the restaurant and afforded us a wealth of people watching opportunities.
We started – as we most often do – with some fizz and bourbon; on the latter I can say Sepia offer up a number of interesting and unique options. I opted for the Cyrus Noble Small Batch, a strong and fumey number with tasty hints of corn, peanuts and treacle. We enjoyed our drinks as our waiter explained that, due to popular demand, Sepia only offered their 9 course tasting menu on Friday and Saturday evenings. Our preferred option would have been à la carte, but we were well up for it.
The menu this evening – we were enlivened to hear – was based on shellfish and game. And so the culinary onslaught began, head chef (and co-proprietor) Martin Benn’s team bombarding us with a swathe of succulent seafood for the fist half, before pirouetting sublimely into delightful earthy dishes of duck and wagyu, and seguing seamlessly through cheese course, palette-cleansing pre-dessert and the Sepia signature itself, the Chocolate Forest.
The full menu has been laid out at the foot of this post in full, gory detail but to pull out the highlights, I would be remiss not to mention the Tuna, with its rich explosion of egg yolk upon piercing that soft outer layer; the Spanner Crab with it’s wow factor elements as the waiter dowsed it in wasabi sherbet; the decadent, decadent Wagyu; and the signature Summer Chocolate Forest, with its array of flavour sensations littered throughout like shrubbery amongst the foliage.
For all its glory, however, the menu wasn’t flawless. The Imperador did not make me look at sushi in a new light, I have experienced better, and the Chocolate, Caramelised Apple and Artichoke dessert was a curious concoction on which the jury has yet to adjourn some five weeks later. Artichoke in a dessert… hmm… just… don’t… know.
All in all the experience was a pleasant one. The staff at Sepia are more than attentive and, at times, downright chatty and we enjoyed our interactions with them. A lot of the food needs to be tried to be believed; despite any grumbles we may have had, Martin Benn has certainly earned his accolades from what we ate.
Having said that, and looping into the aforementioned elusive perfection, the pros weren’t without cons. The restaurant floor staff could improve their game somewhat; we opted to share the cheese course (an optional course) however had we known the cost of this addition, and given how much we had already eaten, we would have passed. I also noticed our bill had charged us per head for this course, which – given we shared one dish – makes me wonder if that was an error on their part.
The last criticism, and unfortunately a big, big, BIG faux pas, was when it came to pay; the maître d’ took my card, left the table area and headed through to the back office. Now I don’t know if this is a thing in Australia, but in the UK taking the card out of the cardholder’s sight is a massive no-no, given to the number of clone and credit card scams out there. I’m sure Sepia have no need or intention of this, however as far as etiquette goes, it certainly set our hackles off.
Mistakes aside, we enjoyed ourselves. Having learned it was our Honeymoon, the chefs compiled a third dessert for us of Edible Pebbles which were tasty and very much appreciated. Remembering the occasion, we were very happy to include Sepia in the plethora of Honeymoon memories we built up along the way.
Fantana Score: 8/10
Tasting Menu in Full:
Tempura oba, smoked ama ebi, shell powder;
Hiramasa kingfish, dashi cream, water chestnut, nori, ponzu;
Saikou salmon, smoked roe, sudachi, and chrysanthemum
Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, tosa soy sauce, wasabi
Spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish
Charcoal grilled black lip abalone, aubergine, nori and miso, sweet bamboo, samphire, buckwheat
Imperador, sushi rice, yuzu kosho, gooseberry, battera kombu
Scampi, jamon cream, Barletta onions, cured pork cheek, sobacha
Roasted Aylesbury duck breast, sansho pepper, cherry umeboshi, macadamia nut milk cream, kinome
David Blackmore wagyu, chestnut mushroom, roasted onion and mustard, horseradish leaf
Optional cheese course; Comte, pear jelly, roasted endive, fried walnuts, plum, celery
Alpine strawberries, young almond, salted white chocolate Chantilly, frozen raspberry sherbet, linara
Summer Chocolate Forest: soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, white rose cream, blackberry sorbet, strawberry and salted shiso jellies, green tea, liquorice, chocolate twigs, bronze fennel, elderflowers
Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib, pecan brittle
Honeymooners course; Edible pebbles